Governor raises red flag on Affordable Heat Act as Senate prepares to vote

Published: Mar. 1, 2023 at 5:46 PM EST
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MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) - The Vermont Senate is expected to vote Thursday on a major climate bill targeting home heating emissions, but Gov. Phil Scott continues to voice his opposition.

The Affordable Heat Act is a complex policy aimed at transforming the way Vermonters heat their homes and businesses. But with just hours to go until the Senate vote, the governor came out swinging Wednesday against the bill, saying we still don’t know the upfront cost to Vermont taxpayers. And he says it will hit low-income and rural Vermonters in the pocketbook.

“There are significant upfront costs that could be harmful and regressive to low-income Vermonters,” said Scott, R-Vermont.

The Affordable Heat Act transforms the thermal energy sector’s business model, making it more expensive for fuel dealers to buy and sell fossil fuels over time.

The Vermont Public Utility Commission will create a market of clean heat credits which fuel dealers can earn by installing heat pumps or weatherizing homes.

Scott also worries about the workforce and having enough people to weatherize and electrify homes.

“To see that the grid is ready for it, or people’s electrical services are ready for it, I say they’re not,” said Steven Richard, an electrician.

Scott agrees tackling climate change is a must but stresses Vermonters need to know the true upfront cost for individual households to make the transition.

“This has to be a measured approach to make sure we are getting the benefit that we need and not spending money we don’t have and impacting Vermonters who don’t have the upfront costs either,” the governor said.

Earlier this session, Agency of Natural Resources Secretary Julie Moore sketched what she called a rough estimate showing consumers would see an initial increase of about 70 cents per gallon of heating oil.

In a rare mid-session ad buy, the Vermont Fuel Dealers Association is running ads against the Affordable Heat Act.

But supporters contend that Vermonters are already paying for it through volatile fuel prices.

“The question is do we want to invest in new solutions? Do we want to invest in a greener Vermont or keep with these volatile fossil fuels?” Rights & Democracy Movement Policy Director Dan Fingas said.

In the long run, supporters say the Affordable Heat Act will save Vermonters some $2 billion in fuel costs. Supporters also note a provision in the bill that requires lawmakers to give the greenlight to any plan the PUC comes up with.

“We’re going to keep the keys to the program and we’re going to decide in 2025 after we have a thorough assessment of the program’s design and its costs and benefits whether or not we’re ever going to let you implement it,” said Ben Edgerly Walsh, the climate and energy program director for the Vermont Public Interest Research Group.

But Scott says that’s not good enough and the program’s costs, impact and implementation need legislative and executive sign-off.

Staff with the Sergeant at Arms office anecdotally tell me they’re fielding just as many if not more calls and messages to lawmakers on this issue than Prop 5, the constitutional amendment on abortion.

The Senate gavels in and will vote on the Affordable Heat Act on Thursday at 1 p.m.

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